Past Picks: The 10 Best Children's Museums

10. Madison Children's Museum, WI

  • Features a barn where kids can dress up like a farmer in a pair of overalls and brush, groom, and milk life-size fiberglass cows Gertrude and Melba Sue.
  • Operates the award-winning "First Feats" exhibit for kids under 5; highlights include playing a tune on a giant thumb piano and unearthing a dinosaur skeleton.
  • Gives kids real tools to dig for dinosaur fossils.
  • Hosts overnight stays for children ages 8 and up complete with a flashlight scavenger hunt.
  • Offers a Shadow Room, which lets children freeze their shadows on a phosphorescent wall.
  • Best for ages: 6 months to 8 years

Located in a 102-year-old building, Madison Children's Museum took a great deal of inspiration from the area's extensive history as a farming community to develop -- and constantly improve -- its facility, exhibits, and programming. "We wanted our museum to reflect the region's natural beauty," says executive director Karen Dummer. "Many of our exhibits are hand-crafted out of natural materials by local artisans."

The most extraordinary ones: "First Feats," a tot area made entirely of nonsynthetic materials such as wood, stone, straw, clay, sand, and cotton. Even the toys in its infant section are all-natural. Across the museum, the "Let's Grow!" exhibit teaches kids about organic gardening, sustainable agriculture, and nutrition. Children can plant and harvest crops, shop for produce at a farmers' market, and make a smoothie.

  • Contact: 608-256-6445; Entrance fee: $4 per person; free on the first Sunday of every month.

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